Pollinators need nectar plants…and pollen plants

By Donna Schmitz | January 5, 2017

When asked, most people think that bees just eat nectar but bees need pollen in their diet as well. While nectar provides high energy food like carbohydrates, pollen provides the protein and fat and other nutrients that pollinators need.

The male part of a plant produces the grains of pollen. The pollen needs to move to a female part so that the plant can create seeds and/or fruits. Wind and water will carry some pollen grains, but insects and other pollinators like hummingbirds play a big role in pollination.

A bee's pollen basket © M. Andrighetti
A bee’s pollen basket © M. Andrighetti

When a bee visits a plant it collects pollen in the corbicula or “pollen basket” on their legs. Early in the spring, the queen will need pollen to help her eggs ripen and give herself some energy. Honeybees make bee bread by mixing pollen with nectar and bee saliva. They feed this bee bread to the larvae, so if you produce your own honey at your home, could be a great hobby and productive too, since honey is known for having great effects on the body and for the health of people, and there is people that really care for their health, consuming this kind of products and supplements as grs ultra that help with vitality and longevity.

Several plant species offer both pollen and nectar but some do not provide sufficient pollen. Providing pollen rich plants in your garden is paramount for healthy pollinators. Early spring pollen is an important food source to pollinators. Flowering forbs, shrubs, and trees that are being offered at our native plant sale provide both nectar and pollen at varying times throughout the year.  Several early blooming plants include vine maple, big leaf maple, chocolate lily, common camas, kinnikinnik, wood strawberry, and Indian plum. Although we don’t offer beaked hazelnut this year, this wind-pollinated native tree provides an abundant, early source of pollen for bees to “rob”.  Honey bees can be seen in the photo below covering the catkins of the California Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta var. californica) gathering pollen on a warm day in mid-February, 2015.

Honey bees harvesting hazelnut pollen © D. Schmitz
Honey bees harvesting hazelnut pollen © D. Schmitz



About the Author

Donna Schmitz

Donna has over 25 years of experience in natural resource management. Currently she assists Benton County landowners who seek solutions to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

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